“Bitter or Sweet?” by Jose Stevens

A new José Stevens Article


We all live in a dualistic virtual reality environment taking place on this home planet we call Earth. From the time we are born to the day we die we deal with experiences that range from bitter to sweet and there is no escape from this phenomena except in our minds. No matter how hard we try there is no way to avoid the fact that people and pets that we love die, become ill, or leave us in various ways. Sometimes when we take a bite of something we think will be good we discover that it is spoiled, under, or overcooked. Sometimes people treat us poorly for no reason we can understand or perhaps because they are so unhappy or have a need to project something on us. Sometimes we are punished for something we did not do or are rejected because we are not what someone is looking for in an employee, in a friend, or in a lover. These are what we could call bitter events because they feel loveless or are painful emotionally.

Likewise there are the experiences that we could call sweet like listening to some great music, seeing some fabulous art, listening to a stimulating and interesting talk, or having a tasty meal or dessert. There is nothing quite like a tall glass of springwater after a hot, sweaty, dusty hike or great sex with someone you are really attracted to and who reciprocates the feeling. Perhaps for you, petting your favorite cat or dog is a sweet event and causes you to smile and chuckle in the pure pleasure of their purrs and groans.

We go from one to another experience, bitter then sweet, sweet then bitter and this characterizes our lives. Some people have lives that are almost all bitter. They may live in poverty and violence from the day they are born and for them the sweet moments are fleeting and brief. There are others amongst us who experience life as mostly sweet, in the rose garden with golden goblets to drink out of, with the bitter moments few and far between. On average over the lifetimes our lives are a good balance of the two. That is what it is to be human, and yet, bitterness and sweetness is also largely self-defined. For one person petting a dog is a bitter experience because it only reminds them of the loss of their own dog that was hit by a car. For another person eating a tasty meal only upsets them as they think about so many poor people with nothing to eat. I remember being this person at times in my younger days. On the other hand there are those who experience hardship but somehow manage to feel cheerful or inspired no matter what. The bitterness of the experience barely touches them because the sweetness is in their attitude or perception. I recall being this person at times as well.

Because of the law of attraction the bitterness tends to attract more bitterness and sweetness tends to attract more sweetness. This has way more to do with what you are feeling than how someone else would define the event. It is not a bitter event if you experience it from a sweet place and it is not a sweet event if you experience it in a bitter way. An ability to experience sweetness is not denial or an example of insane idealism when faced with real danger. That may be dysfunctional and is often just a temporary coping mechanism or a cover up job. It does not work the same way as a real ability to reframe something. I have also seen examples of cynics who appeared to downgrade everything but underneath had a real ability to experience the sweetness of life. All is not as it seems and sometimes we have to look a little deeper and see the bigger picture of someone’s experience.

In general bitterness is an experience of the false personality and leads us to an experience or sense of separation. Bitterness is an energy leak of major proportions because rather than energize us it depresses us or leads us to resentment, anger, vengeance and ultimately misery. Sweetness is an experience of essence because it unites, makes us one with, connects us, and opens our hearts to love. Does this make bitterness bad and sweetness good? Not necessarily because one of the purposes of the physical plane is to experience dichotomy, a dualistic experience. By knowing the bitterness of something we can even more appreciate the sweetness of something. By knowing cold we can appreciate hot even more and vice versa. By knowing the illusion of separation we can even more appreciate the experience of love and connection. By letting go of something we can often have it even more like letting go of attachment to a person resulting in more connection with them in the long run.

Whatever your experience be it bitter or sweet there is always something valuable to learn and grow from.  In our foolishness we often wish that life were eternally sweet but that might just lead to taking life for granted and no longer valuing just how good we have it. Perhaps that is what is happening to the Untied States at the moment. Perhaps we have taken for granted our liberties and standard of living and many other advantages that have come with being Americans. Now many feel the bitterness of an ironically dark swamp takeover leading to a loss of environmental protections, a free web, public lands, public safety nets like pensions, access to medical care, balance of powers, a fair justice system, and a host of other support systems long considered basic rights of citizens. What better way to realize their value than to have them threatened with loss? I realize that this is not necessarily what we want but perhaps in our higher wisdom it is what we temporarily need to wake up and smell the fumes of destruction before it completely overtakes and kills us. This is a time when bitterness seems to be in takeover mode.

Will we go meekly like martyred lambs to the slaughter or will we wake up and do whatever it takes to make sure that what we value survives the tests of greed, destruction, and arrogance? Do we acquiesce to bitter or sweet?

The polarizing theme that has taken hold is not an accident but one that has been very much predicted by the Mayan prophesies and others. Not only has it taken hold but it is still building and will continue to do so for another six years or so before plateauing for another eight or so years to complete this twenty year cycle of polarization that started in 2012.  This increase in tensions could lead to violent confrontations and extreme behavior including revenge and out of proportion reactions to any resistance or different points of view. We already currently see attempts to destroy any opposition or resistance to tyranny, dictatorship, and narcissistic ego displays.

Is the best response to ignore, fiercely resist, attack, be in humor, subvert, sabotage, or what? The problem is the age-old rule that what you resist you become. That is what has derailed many a promising revolution. The correct response requires a balancing act of a number of tools in the proverbial survival toolbox. Of course it never hurts to start with a bit of humor realizing that one should never trust appearances and this is all a passion play put on by ourselves to create a very interesting set of life lessons. Access to neutrality is quite helpful in the long run. In the short run anger is not always a negative reaction and sometimes is a good motivator to move to action.  A little subversion here and a little sabotage there can be useful. Ignoring has its place when faced with a blowhard but is not a good overall strategy for the bigger picture, for example like ignoring a broken bone, a serious cut, or cancer; not a good idea.

One must choose their battles at the best time and place and sometimes this requires holding the line and resisting fiercely. At other times a temporary feint at retreating or accepting defeat can be a good maneuver because it throws the other side off guard and makes them vulnerable as is evident in martial arts.

Some battles cannot be won in the short term and should not distract from the overall cause. If anything has defeated otherwise mature people is their tendency to fragment into idealistic factions that then feed into the divide and conquer strategy of the so-called forces of corruption. Some want attention to the environment, animal rights, LGBTQ rights, attention to plight of Blacks, Native Americans, women, right to choose, immigration, Latino rights, and on and on. These are not opposing issues but when they are seen as competing they become an area of weakness for the forces of corruption to take advantage of. When one issue finds a voice and pulls in money and attention and begins to make progress some others feel passed over and want immediate gains as well. This is not practical and good results will not come about this way.  They each require all forces to pull for them when the time is right. Impatience is a losing strategy.

Overall the best strategy is slowly and inexorably building overall strength until the force of change is overwhelming. The other side may win battles but this more gradual strategy masters the outcome of the overall contest. The fuel for building this strength comes from the absolute trust, knowledge, and perception about what is aligned with Spirit and what is not. This is called keeping an eye on the ball and on the door at the other side of the temple of ten thousand demons.

In the end it helps that each person engaged in this revolution or paradigm shift realizes that what appears to be an external war of values is nothing more than a personal confrontation with ones own ego. The opposite hemispheres of the brain must be joined in marriage, the masculine with the feminine at a higher level of perception. Those abhorrent self serving ideas, prejudices, ways of being are nothing more than ourselves over the last thousands of years and we don’t like it any more.

Both the irresponsible, destructive, violent, narcissistic masculine and the manipulative, irresponsible, and equally destructive and narcissistic feminine need upgrading to a higher level of consciousness within us. We need to do it here, inside ourselves first, and then we will see the changes all around us. Bitter or sweet or both?


José Stevens PhD is an international lecturer, corporate team builder and organizational coach, consultant and trainer. A psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and author of more than twenty books and numerous articles, he is also co-editor for A Journal of Contemporary Shamanism and a board member of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners. He is the founder, with his wife Lena, of the Power Path School of Shamanism and The Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating youth in indigenous cultures. He has completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol Maracame in Mexico and has studied with the Shipibos of the Amazon and the Paqos of the Andes for the last thirty years.

Meditation in the Cave by Ralph De La Rosa

(CNN)It’s a captivating image: a dozen pre-teen and teen boys trapped in a cave for 10 days, only to be found by rescuers mysteriously calm, composed … perhaps even meditating.

It’s uncanny to consider that their unspeakable misfortune (they would not actually get out of the cave for several more days) was accompanied by something very lucky: they were trapped with a former Buddhist monk of 10 years, their soccer coach, who was able to guide them in meditation, a time-tested technique that diminishes distress.
Leigh Weiss of Stanford University is correct when she notes that meditation was an ideal response to this situation. She told CNBC that the practice likely lowered their cortisol levels to help them stay calm, and lowered their rate of respiration in the confined environment, where air was a dear resource.
Beyond its utility in helping the boys and their coach survive, there’s a pivotal aspect of working with our emotions in meditation — one that may also help these boys navigate the complex fallout of their experience, both the media attention and the potential, personal traumatic reverberations. It’s a central aspect of meditation that has implications for us all: relating to our experience with an attitude of “caring for it.”
Trauma in Thailand 03:30
How might they have used this?
Ordinarily, we identify with our emotions, especially the strong ones, like fear and anxiety. Anger is certainly a good one to consider — many of us struggle with it. Think about the last time you got angry. Anger sort of took over, didn’t it? It may have even felt like, in a way, you were the anger. You may have even communicated the feeling in a manner reflective of this intrapsychic carjacking: “I’m angry,” as opposed to, “I feel anger.” I’m willing to bet the anger either became your boss (it dictated what you did, said, and thought next) or it became your enemy (you pushed it down or distracted yourself from it).
We might not see it, but we have a relationship to our experience, whatever it is, that is not unlike the relationships we have with other people.
So, what if you had been able to mentally take a step back from your anger, put a little bit of space between it and you so you could get some perspective? What if you were able to adopt a friendlier attitude about the presence of that anger, or were even compassionate towards the struggling part of you?
The same was possible with the fear and anxiety the Thai boys felt in the cave. It’s likely that coach Ekapol Chanthawong guided the boys to not struggle against their intense feelings and to paradoxically regulate their stress in the face of it by “holding” their experience with kindness.
After rescue, focus shifts to health 01:38
If you had done so with your anger, you would have instantly eliminated a layer of anguish for yourself. I say this often at MNDFL here in NYC, which offers meditation classes: if we’re anxious and we’re hating our anxiety, that’s two layers of suffering. If we take a step back and become friendly towards our anxiety, we’re left with one layer of suffering, and the anxiety becomes infinitely more tolerable than when we were struggling against it. This may well be what helped the boys to find ease in their entrapment and emerge relatively unscathed.
Second, this aspect of meditation empowers us to allow our emotions to run their course without being so seduced by them. Our emotions are like everything else in existence in that they have a life cycle: they’re born, they peak, and then they die. When we make bosses or enemies of our emotions — that is, when we indulge or repress them — it’s like we choke off that process. And you may have noticed, when we numb our emotions or take them out on others, it’s not as if they go away. They just go underground, where they cause more problems.
In befriending our emotional experience we can allow our emotions to run their full course, diminishing the likelihood that their biochemical residue will remain in our nervous systems and cause other stress-related problems and illnesses. In short, if we learn to take them less personally, they rule our lives to a far lesser degree.
Returning to the 12 boys and their coach, we know that they will be forced to relive their experience again and again as the onslaught of media attention continues. With the proper relationship to their experience, this activity could be healing for them as opposed to re-traumatizing.
In my own work with trauma survivors as a therapist, little by little, I invite the retelling of unspeakable events, help patients to feel every bit of the emotional activation attached to the experience, and together we hold it all in a compassionate space. My hope for these boys is that they might be able to utilize the endless interviews they’ll be having and other media attention that may be unwelcome toward similar ends by holding compassion for themselves, even if no one else is.
It’s a good bet that the boys survived their experience in the cave, both physiologically and psychologically, in part thanks to meditation. While it’s likely that you or I won’t ever find ourselves in such a situation, we all have places in our lives where we feel trapped, stuck, and uncertain about our fate. I think the triumph of these young adolescents has something to teach us all about how we face the distress of everyday life.

“Fear and Anger” by Jack Kornfield

Most people discover that when hate is gone, they will be
forced to deal with their own pain.
—James Baldwin

Aversion, anger, and hatred are states of mind that strike against experience, pushing it away, rejecting what is presented in the moment. They do not come from without. This insight is a reversal of the ordinary way we perceive life. “Usually,” says Ajahn Chah, “we believe outer problems attack us.” Things are wrong and people misbehave, causing our hatred and suffering to arise. But however painful our experiences may be, they are just painful experiences until we add the response of aversion or hatred. Only then does suffering arise. If we react with hatred and aversion, these qualities become habitual. Like a distorted autoimmune response, our misguided reaction of hatred does not protect us; rather, it becomes the cause of our continued unhappiness.

The Buddha declares, “Enraged with hate, with mind ensnared, humans aim at their own ruin and at the ruin of others.” How do we break this tragic legacy—both in our own lives and in every blood-soaked corner of the globe? Only through a deep understanding of anger, hatred, and aggression. They are universal energies, archetypal forces that cause immense suffering in the world. Their source must be traced in the depths of our human hearts. And then we will discover an amazing truth: that with compassion, with courage and dedicated effort, we, like the Buddha, can meet the aggressive forces of our own mind and of others, and these energies can be transformed.

Freud and his followers believed the aggressive instincts to be primary. Culture’s “commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself…is really justified by the fact that nothing else runs so strongly counter to original human nature as this.” Later, in the aftermath of World War II, sociobiologists such as Konrad Lorenz and Robert Ardrey hypothesized that our species, like our predecessor apes and many other animals, had necessary and inevitable instincts of territoriality and aggression.Today, evolutionary biology and neuroscience are carefully charting the genetic function and neural mechanisms of aggression.

But the fact that aggression, anger, and aversion are built into our universal heritage is only the starting point in Buddhist psychology. After we learn how to face them directly, to see how they arise and function in our life, we must take a revolutionary step. Through the profound practice of insight, through nonidentification and compassion, we reach below the very synapses and cells and free ourselves from the grasp of these instinctive forces.With dedication, we discover it is possible to do so.

Aversion and anger almost always arise as a direct reaction to a threatening or painful situation. If they are not understood they grow into hatred. As we have seen, pain and loss are undeniable parts of human life. Buddhist texts speak of a mountain of pain. They tell us our tears of grief could fill all four great oceans. When our experience is one of pain, hurt, loss, or frustration, our usual habit is to draw back in aversion or strike out in anger, to blame or run away.

Like pain, fear is the other common predecessor to anger and hate—fear of loss, of hurt, of embarrassment, of shame, of weakness, of not knowing. When fear arises, anger and aversion function as strategies to help us feel safe, to declare our strength and security. In fact, we actually feel insecure and vulnerable, but we cover this fear and vulnerability with anger and aggression. We do this at work, in marriage, on the road, in politics. A fearful situation turns to anger when we can’t admit we are afraid. As the poet Hafiz writes, “Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d rather see you in better living conditions.” Without insight, we are doomed to live our lives in this cheap room.

Fortunately, we can train ourselves to live with mindfulness, to meet fear and pain with wisdom instead of with the habits of aversion and anger. When a painful or threatening event arises, we can open our eyes to it. When we learn to bear our own pain and face our own fears, we will no longer blame and inflict it on others, neither family members nor other tribes. With mindfulness, instead of reacting, we can respond with spacious clarity, purpose, firmness, and compassion. A wise response includes whatever action, fierce at times, is the most caring toward life, our own and others’.

Imagine a healthy mind as one that is free from entanglement in any level of hatred. At first this might seem impossible, an idealistic attempt to impose decorum on our innately aggressive human nature. But freedom from hatred is not spiritual repression, it is wisdom in the face of pain and fear.

In a healthy response to pain and fear, we establish awareness before it becomes anger. We can train ourselves to notice the gap between the moments of sense experience and the subsequent response. Because of the particle-like nature of consciousness, we can enter the space between instinct and action, between impulse and reaction.To do so we must learn to tolerate our pain and fear. This is not easy. As James Baldwin put it, “Most people discover that when hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their own pain.”

That’s why we start by paying attention to small things, small pains and disappointments. When I start to get into an argument with my wife, if I pay attention I notice that I usually feel hurt or afraid. If I speak to her angrily, she will become defensive and the argument will grow. But if I’m mindful, I can talk about the hurt or fears instead of being lost in anger and blame.Then my wife becomes interested and concerned. Out of this a different and more honest conversation occurs.


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